Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab
Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab

Final Project – Choropleth Chicago

After rereading my write-ups, something I’ve noticed about myself as a learner is that I rarely make the exact thing I originally intended or envisioned to make. I’ve never really reflected on this before, but this approach to projects and work is how I go about doing a lot of things in life. When I am pressed up for time or when I realize that something is not going to work out, I change the course of what I need to do without much hesitation. And it’s not so much that I am giving up, but rather, I am willing to adapt quickly as the situation changes. This is something I think I have always done, but reflecting on our labs and assignments in makerspace made me call it out. Actually, one of my learning goals for this final project was to try and achieve the original vision for the project (which I failed). However, looking at that learning goal now, I really shouldn’t have set that goal because I like that I can adapt to change and different obstacles. I also appreciate that makerspace does not chastise us for changing the project, making mistakes, or failing. The freedom gives me the space to try more or different things that might be perceived as “risky” for a school project.

For my project, I made an interactive choropleth map of Chicago. There’s a joystick attached to an Arduino which control neopixel lights that display different colors or strengths of color through the acrylic or geographic areas of the city to represent values/quantities in the area. These values or quantities come from public datasets; example datasets would be population density, median income, number of bike racks, number of home burglaries, etc.) Although I didn’t have everything hooked up properly during the showcase, there’s supposed to be an LCD on the board and it’s supposed to show the user what dataset they’re looking at.

I had a lot of challenges along the way, but I guess the biggest challenge was lack of time – I felt incredibly rushed through the entire project which ultimately impacted the resulting product. I typically like to do substantive research before buying, building, working on a project, but I had to order parts (like neopixels, capacitor, etc.) without much due research. Fortunately, most of the things I ordered worked out all right – though I kind of wish I didn’t get lines of neopixels, but rather, programmable LED strings. Also, I was rushing when I was buying my materials at the FabLab and bought clear acrylic when I should’ve gotten frosted acrylic, and for the showcase/presentation, I had to back the clear acrylic with computer paper that was packaging taped to the board.

For my first goal, I said it would be really nice to be able to code datasets (e.g. median income, population data, number of bike racks, etc.) to the LED display. I kind of met this goal. The reason why I didn’t have the datasets coded into the Arduino and the LEDs by the day of presentation was actually because of technical difficulties I was having with the mapping software (GIS). That’s kind of funny because I am (supposed to be) way more adept with GIS than Arduino things, but that is what happened. Although I did not have real datasets for the project during the presentation/showcase, I know for sure that all of it could be set up quite easily once the datasets are prepared.

For my second goal, I said I want to make something that I would be proud to display, even if that means I have to reiterate parts of my project. I definitely failed this. In hindsight, this was an awful learning goal to set since it was a relatively complicated two-week project during finals. Iteration and the contemplation of design/process of making takes a lot of time. I learned that it’s really easy for me to say that I will do iteration (because we all know iteration results in insights and better results), but when it came down to it, I just didn’t have the resources (ie. spending more money on material for redoes) and time.

Even though I did not meet both my goals, I still really like my project and I see the value in this big interactive choropleth map as an aesthetic/teaching piece. At first, I wasn’t very happy at all with the product I had to present during the day of the showcase. But as I received more comments from people who saw it, I liked what I made more and more. I appreciated all the praise and critical feedback I received, and over the course of the day, I came to own that I spent a lot of time working on a pretty cool project that wasn’t completely finished.

I’ve never heard of the “maker” identity before this class, but I’ve been “making” things for a while now, so was I a “maker” before this class? Before this makerspace class though, I never “made” so many projects (ie. physical things) in such a short amount of time. Every week, we just thought up of something and started making. Before this class, I had a lot of hesitation when starting a new project. Doing new projects every week with Makerspace has definitely helped rid me of this mental barrier. I think I am/was often discouraged to even start a project because I feared that I would not end up with perfect results, but this class has really taught me that I should forge on because trying and making something – even if it’s not what I originally thought it would be – is so much more rewarding than not having started anything. If it wasn’t for this class pushing me to work on all these projects, especially the final two projects, I’m sure the barrier would’ve been too high for me. Now that I have traction for picking up materials and fiddling and making, I’m sure I will be making with less hesitance.


My capacitor started leaking because I plugged it in the wrong way… #noob

Yikes, rastering took about an hour


Testing out the neopixels

LCD wasn’t working. Duncan told me I should’ve used the “backpack.”

Geographic Information System (GIS) is the bane of my life.

Held up by packaging tape but it works

Showcase product